Five Waxed Peeves

Things that Peeved Me about the Cross-Country Skiing Men’s Classic Sprint Race on the Olympics Last Night:

1. I’ll never be the sprint specialist from Switzerland.

2. There was no outlier competitor from Jamaica with Coke-bottle thick glasses for the world to get sentimental about.

3. No one took the opportunity at the starting line to enact a dramatic pantomime in which he couldn’t break through the flexible bar that blocked his legs, using overstated gestures and mock cry face as he pretended he was — oh, woe! — sthuck at the thtart. 

4. The Norwegian skier Johannes Klaebo did his thing he does and literally ran up the hills propelled by an ugly, no-technique motor — when he does this, his skis are incidental to his movement, not a part of any sort of stride or kick or leg extension, and apparently it makes his coaches wince — and here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with him running up the hills instead of using actual technique like his competitors; he’s not breaking any rules, and what he does serves him extremely well because — SPOILER ALERT — he won the whole thing masterfully, and passionate (Duluth) commentator Chad Salmela, while pointing out his unique approach up the hills, noted repeatedly that Klaebo is the most-talented men’s Nordic skier in the world, so I definitely am kind of into Johannes Klaebo at the same time I am peeved at him on the hills, and really, if I’m honest, my reaction to him is very personal because there’s this guy in our area who does all these walking races, as in official walking races with prizes and awards and such, and he makes the motions of speed walking so that 99.5% of onlookers think he’s walking, but for those of us in the know, like one certain cranky faded strawberry blonde hammering on this keyboard, we can see that what he does fits the technical definition of running, and I happen to know from the man who taught my Community Ed power walking class a bunch of years ago that this guy is notorious in the race walking community for running and letting people think it’s walking, even after he’s had official judges talk to him about his form and explain how he always has to have one foot on the ground and such, but this cheater guy just shucks off their counsel and enters the next walking race he can find with a prize and no official judges, and sometimes a certain cranky faded strawberry blonde who is hammering on this keyboard has entered those same races, and even though her body is not slim and her pelvis was, according to reports from her mother, out of alignment at birth which may be responsible for her knock-kneed-ness, this cranky lady is really strong and is a very good walker and could, potentially, win a prize with some legitimate walking except for the fact that cheater dude is in the race doing his fake-walk-that’s-actually-a-run, and so he beats her BECAUSE HE’S RUNNING, and boy did it make her feel good one time when her cousin’s wife (a physical therapist) who was watching a race they were both in congratulated her at the finish for being the first female walker (NOT THE FIRST OVERALL WALKER BECAUSE THE AFOREMENTIONED CHEATING PRIZE SNATCHER EDGED HER OUT) and then had to shout, “But he was running! What he was doing wasn’t walking!” — after which the cranky lady hugged her cousin’s wife really hard because at least one person saw that guy for what he was, and this is why I get peeved with Johannes Klaebo because I’ll bet at least one of his competitor’s wives is shouting in Estonia about how he’s running up the hills and not skiing, all of which is to say You go, Klaebo; you look like a four-year-old on roller skates climbing a staircase, but keep it up!

5. In every heat, the frontrunners did that thing near the finish line where, if they had a good lead, they stopped hustling, stopped trying, stopped racing during the race, so that they could cruise across the finish line without effort, all leisurely guy in a smoking jacket looking for his snifter of brandy instead of Olympian hauling relentlessly ass to the very end to get the best possible time. Listen, Cedric, this behavior is unnecessarily cocky. You’re in a race. Finish that fucker out like you’re lucky to be there.


Typing: 19:56

Editing: 8:04

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Six in Five: Tuesday, February 13

Unfunny comedians alive in the 1970s who shaped my sense of what was “funny” to a troubling extent simply because they were on Hollywood Squares, and the tv in our house was rarely turned off:

Peter Marshall: It is considered in bad taste to discuss two subjects at nudist camps. One is politics, what is the other? Paul Lynde: Tape measures.
Phyllis Diller: When I go to the beauty parlor, I always use the emergency entrance.
Peter Marshall: Back in the old days, when Great Grandpa put horseradish on his head, what was he trying to do? George Gobel: Get it in his mouth.
Peter Marshall: Do rosy cheeks always mean good health? Charley Weaver: Not if you’re sitting on a radiator!
Jo Anne Worley: I didn’t know Dr. Spock cared about people. I thought he was only interested in babies.
Peter Marshall: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss lived in the same place. Where did they all live?Wayland Flowers and Madame: At the YMCA!
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Thirty-Three in Eleven: Monday, February 12

Things the Fully Dressed Lady in the Sauna Did During Her 90-Second Visit:

1. Looked startled when I said, “If you want the light on, we can turn it back on. I just turned it off, but it’s no big deal to me either way”

2. Assured me it was fine to leave the light off

3. Dramatically felt her way, running her hands along the boards like a blind woman, as she climbed to the top bench

4. In what felt like an affectation for someone wearing sweatpants: carefully spread a towel on the bench before sitting down

5. Took off her Dr. Scholl’s slides

6. Put on her Dr. Scholl’s slides

7. Jumped a little when I hit the button on the wall that adds water to the rocks

8. Opened her Nalgene bottle

9. Gulped noisily from her Nalgene bottle

10. Energetically screwed closed her Nalgene bottle

11. Sighed loudly

12. Wiped the top of her scalp a bunch of times, smoothing back flyaway hairs

13. Unscrewed the lid of her Nalgene bottle

14. Gulped noisily from her Nalgene bottle

15. Energetically screwed closed her Nalgene bottle

16. Sighed loudly

17. Sat stiffly upright

18. Plucked at her t-shirt

19. Checked her watch

20. Opened her Nalgene bottle

21. Gulped noisily from her Nalgene bottle

22. Energetically screwed closed her Nalgene bottle

23. Sighed in a protracted exhale that added another layer of steam to the room

24. Stood up

25. Grabbed the edge of her towel

26. Carefully stepped down to the floor, feeling her way, running her hands along the surfaces like a blind woman exiting her seat on a train

27. Wished me a good afternoon as I dabbed a trickle of sweat running between my breasts

Things the Fully Dressed Lady in the Sauna Did Not Do During Her 90-Second Visit:

1. Get nudie

2. Lean back

3. Stop moving

4. Consider she might be able to weather 90 seconds in a sauna without repeated hydration

5. Relax even one Dr. Scholl’s-sheathed toe

6. Get any sweatier than her natural state of being — a looping kinetic anxiousness — keeps her all the time


Typing: 11:13

Editing: MORE THAN 90 SECONDS

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Five in Five: Saturday, February 10

Neighbors I Never Really Knew:

1. In the fall of 1987, I did a semester in Dublin with my two best friends from college, Colleen and Guppie; we rented a flat together in the Sandymount suburb of the city. We had the downstairs, and above us lived two Asian tenants, a male and a female, whom we called The Chinese Acrobats due to their penchant for continuous thumping, clomping, and whamming. We never spoke to these housemates — their flat being up a staircase, beyond a closed door — unless they opened the door to call down “Telephone!” Thus, even though their faces are smudges in my memory, they will always remind me of an era when a ringing phone was was actually answered

2. The year after we graduated from college, Colleen, a friend named Dan, and I rented half of a duplex on Harriet Avenue in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. On the main floor of the house lived a few “older” guys (maybe, like, 28?) whom we never got to know past quick hellos as we passed each other. Colleen remembers these housemates as “beer-soaked” before noting, “…then again we were pretty beer-soaked, too.” I remember one of them, slight of build, a thin blonde mullet topping his ubiquitous denim jacket, because he was kind enough to respond to my frantic knocking the time I saw a mouse in our apartment. Sloshing a little as he walked, he climbed the stairs to our place and did a requisite look through all the closets, scanning the counters and baseboards. We found neither mouse nor lasting friendship 

3. My first year of graduate school at the University of Idaho, I lived in the Alumni Residence Center, a concrete leviathan that housed males on one floor, females on another. While I became good friends with several of the women at my end of the hall, I never connected much with the other, hmmm, 40 females on that floor, not even during hundreds of trips to the shared bathroom. Over winter break, everyone cleared out except for one young woman, a meaty menace if ever I’d seen one, a flat-faced snarker named Cheyenne. When I returned to my room after break, my television was gone. Stolen. The theft was never solved EVEN THOUGH IT CLEARLY WAS CHEYENNE WHO TOOK IT. Not one to be daunted by loss of a small television set, I drove directly to the store and used money I didn’t have to buy a bigger, newer set that weighed 274 pounds. Getting it up the stairs to my room had me dripping with sweat, one lung partially collapsed, but victory was mine: there was no way the concrete leviathan that was Cheyenne could pick up that brute and make off with it when I went to Colorado for Spring Break. She might try, but the effort would bust her ribcage

4. After finishing graduate school, I landed a job teaching composition at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Since a full-time job teaching comp in 1993 paid $17,000/year, with no benefits, I would need to live on a tight budget, which is not easily achieved in most parts of Colorado. Fortunately, there was a cottage for rent behind a bigger house on Tejon Street, and it was going for $300/month. I snapped up that cottage and, despite living there for more than a year, never did speak to the scary looking guys — both of them with complicated facial hair, sleeves of tattoos, and massive belt buckles — who lived in the Big House up front. With some justification, I called them The Drug Dealers, but our interactions were non-existent outside of my saying “Hi” or asking them about the going rate for a kilo of coke

5. When we moved to the village of Ortahisar in the Cappadocia region of Turkey in 2010, we rented a 400-year-old Greek house not far from the center of town. Just across the narrow, dusty street lived an older couple who insisted we call them “komsu,” the Turkish word for “neighbor.” The fact that we never really got to know them had nothing to do with lack of effort, as they asked us in for tea many times, tried to plop the kids onto their donkey, and helped us set up our coal-burning soba stoves in the winter. Rather, it was the lack of common language that thwarted a friendship — that, and the fact that they were grasping, almost mercenary, in their desire to see the insides of our wallets. On the first day we met them, the wife went into her bedroom, took a headscarf out of a drawer, wrapped it around my head, and said, “Bes lira” (five lira). Then she started feeding us, pricing each item as we chewed. Turns out a jar of pekmez would also be “Bes lira!” The language barrier proved helpful, for we couldn’t afford the cost of their friendship**

(**with the Turkish words used here, the “s” should have a little tail hanging from it, but this blog won’t support such characters)  


Typing: 20:46

Editing: 8:03

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Five in Five: Friday, February 9

A long-simmering conversation has reached a boil this week in Duluth; everyone’s a’poppin’.

I mean, I wasn’t a’poppin’ because I don’t read the newspaper, and I try to avoid public conversations because they invariably make me hate people, but I discovered just how buzzy folks were getting when questions started hitting my DMs, and every other Facebook post I saw from locals was in search of a sparky comment thread. “As an educator, what do you think?” “As a parent, what do you think?”

To be straight-up honest here: once I read the article that’s got everyone up in arms, I pretty much shrugged and thought, “Um, good? Is ‘good’ enough of a response?”

But, of course, if conversation is to happen, elaboration helps. So after I read the article about how Duluth Public Schools will no longer be requiring students to read and discuss To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I tried to work up the energy to engage in discussin’. 

Mostly, though, “Good” sums up my feelings. 

Whether to include classics that use racist language as part of the school curriculum is a debate that’s been raging for decades. That some action is finally happening indicates policy might be finally catching up with the current climate. Yes, people love these books. Yes, people worry that we’re erasing history if we don’t make teenagers read books about how it used to be. (STILL IS, btfw) Yes, people worry when a rule smacks of books being banned or censored. Got it. I got all that.

Still, of the change in curriculum, I say “Good.”

When a former student messaged to ask my thoughts, I wrote back: 

You know, it doesn’t bother me. In fact, if black people (repped by the NAACP) are saying “Teaching these books is hurtful to us — they contribute to continuing racism,” then I’m okay with listening to the thoughts of those whose lived experiences are so different from mine. Also, the books aren’t being banned; they’ll still be in the libraries and available for students. And if students want to choose to read them for an essay they’ll write, they can. Basically, this is a change in curriculum. Public school teachers never get to chose what they teach; they are told by the district. So this change is not limiting the rights of teachers to choose. They always have to do what they’re told. Rather, this change seems to be about sending a message of “Maybe we’re finally ready to move away from an era where all the classics we require our kids to read are written by white people, centered on white people, and use the language that is a legacy of white people’s oppression.”

I’d rather, in the books my kids are required to read, that the institutions sending messages about what’s “good” and “important” ask them to read some books by black authors that are centered on the black experience and POV. Removing these two classics makes room for books that do just that.

Also, the objectionable word in these books is “nigger.” When I consider a different scenario, one in which my kids are required to read books that treat women as lesser citizens, casually calling them “cunts” because, hey, that’s what women have often been called historically, my reaction is: I’m not sure I want them to receive those messages through the school curriculum.

In the last couple days, as well, a friend put out a call on behalf of a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune who was having trouble finding people who would chat with her and give quotes for a story she’s assigned to write on this Duluth debate. So I offered. After we spoke on the phone, I later sent her a follow-up message:

…my 17-year-old, Allegra, just got home from a ski meet, and I asked her thoughts about To Kill a Mockingbird. She says she’s glad she read it but that it’s not the only book that can teach young people about the history of racism in the U.S. For her, she has learned about racism from a variety of novels that she’s read, but, as she notes, not all kids are readers, so we can’t trust they will be part of racial discussions and learning unless there is some book required in high school English classes that addresses this difficult topic. Thus, she firmly believes there should be a novel required in the curriculum that asks classes to discuss race — but there’s no reason it needs to be To Kill a Mockingbird. As my husband and I talked with her about this, we noted there are many, many books that raise the issue and that we believe it would be more effective if students learn about racism through a book that is written by a person of color, with POC characters, so that the lens of the narrative is focused on the oppressed experience, not white perceptions of people of color.

Later last night, I got a message from a librarian friend in Pennsylvania, asking my thoughts. We had a good conversation about the difficulty of letting go of much-beloved books, especially when they are so ingrained in the culture. Yet I maintain my initial stance of “Good” about the change in curriculum.

It’s white people who are buzzing. It’s white people who are bemoaning the change. It’s white people who are worried that their kids won’t learn about the history of racism without these books being taught in the schools. It’s white people who need to learn to shut up and listen. 

Because it’s black people, Native people, Latino people, Asian people — the millions with brown skin — who have been the target of racism, historically and currently. They have suffered lasting traumas under the systems white people created. Their children have had to sit in classrooms and ingest the words of white writers depicting white characters as saviors, especially when it comes to those poor black folk. And it’s people with brown skin who breathe the air of racism every hour of every day who are saying, “These books are hurtful to us. They are not helping to alleviate the problem.”

So why on Oprah’s round earth can’t white people shut the fuck up about their feelings and worries and hear what they are being told? The people oppressed say “Requiring these books is not good,” and the oppressors say, “But…”

I’m very glad there will be space in the public school English curriculum for different books to be taught. There are thousands of amazing novels written by authors with brown skin, telling amazing stories of people with brown skin — rich, evocative, empathy-building books that will help kids of color in the classroom feel seen and celebrated, that will jar white kids into understanding that although the focus has always been on them, there are other ways, other pains, other lives, and it’s essential they learn about our racist realities from the perspectives of those who have been held down the hardest and the longest. If white people are ever going to dismantle the systems they have built, they first have to be able to see them for what they are. 

So good on you, Duluth Public Schools. And if you’re struggling to find new books to plug into the curriculum, and you’re not in the mood for classics by Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, R. K. Narayan, Jean Toomer, Margaret Walker, Lorraine Hansberry, Julia Alvarez, Jorge Luis Borges, Langston Hughes, Chinua Achebe, Osamu Dazai, Claude McKay, Paule Marshall, Zitkala-Sa, Toni Morrison, James Weldon Johnson, Junot Diaz, Sui Sin Far, Luther Standing Bear, Alice Walker, Nawal El Saadawi, Zora Neale Hurston, Sarah Winnemucca, Es’kia Mphahlele, Sandra Cisneros, Jhumpa Lahiri, James Baldwin, or Isabelle Allende, please feel free to consider a few of the books collaged below. 

I’m an educator. I’m a parent. And I would LOVE for my students and my kids to read every last one of them.


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Typing time: Can I get all blowhardy here and say “400 years”?
Editing time: Well, I mean, the spelling of Es’kia Mphahlele is something I had to look up.

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Five in Five: Thursday, February 8

On the day Allegra and I eyeballed the various exercise stations filling the usually open expanse of the third floor of the Y, it had been months since I’d last attended the Boot Camp class.

Some of the stations looked familiar. Yup, I’d held the ends of the big ropes in my hands before and pounded them for the timed two minutes. Sure, I knew how to do walking lunges with a body bar on my back. Pushing weights across the floor while doing walking plank? Got it. Hate it, but got it.

However, as we reviewed the rest of challenges that had been set up to help us get sweaty, there were a few spots that were new to me, definitely new to Allegra. Looked like we’d be flipping a huge tire, doing some abs somehow related to the Core Pole, possibly carrying heavy weights around the track during a Farmer Walk. Before we had time to figure out the final new station — a line of blue Bosus — the teacher cranked the music and called everyone out onto the track for a skipping, jumping warm-up before we started tackling the stations. 

Shrugging at each other, Allegra and I knew we’d figure out those Bosus when the time came; all we had to do was not start at that station and then watch the first few rounds of Bosu people to see what they did. 

Except, well, each person did something different on the Bosus. Some jumped from Bosu to Bosu; others pulled out fancy footwork, a dizzying flurry of pounding and whacking. By the time we’d worked through a few stations and landed at the Bosus, we still had no idea how we should pass our two minutes of (hypothetical) high-intensity activity. Fortunately, the teacher was nearby, so I called out, “What are we supposed to be doing here exactly?”

Over her shoulder, as she went to adjust the music, she answered, “Hop up on a Bosu and run in place while you do Heinies!”

Heinies?

All right, then. As we each stepped onto a Bosu, I counseled Allegra, “This must be a glutes exercise; I think we’re trying to work our quads as we whack our ‘heinies’ with our feet — or get as close as we can, anyhow.”

For two minutes, we focused on balancing while doing Heinies, trying our best to kick our rear ends, all to the thumpthumpthump of the music.

Eventually, we’d worked through almost all the stations twice. It was only when I was balancing my feet on a big blue ball, pulling my legs in to do a move called a “jacknife,” that I glanced over at the line of Bosus again. As I watched a sweaty guy working himself hard on top of the bouncy surface, I took stock of his movements. He wasn’t very good at Heinies; he wasn’t getting his feet anywhere near his derriere. 

In fact, he was doing the whole move wrong, lifting his legs to ninety degrees in front of his body as he jumped. Yeah, he totally didn’t get Heinies. Poor dude wasn’t going to reap the benefits of his efforts with that kind of form!

All he was doing — silly sod — was running on the Bosu with

high knees.


Typing: 6 minutes + a big break to go take pictures of pack ice at the beach + 3 minutes + a break to make a pot of mint green tea + 12 minutes

Editing: As long as it took me to add more honey to the tea. Kinda bitter. Byron tells me it’s because I steeped for ten minutes (too long for green tea) and used boiling water (no-no for green tea). Then he assured me he still liked it, but in my head I was wishing he’d go do a bunch of Heinies.

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Five in Five: Wednesday, February 7

Ridiculous, irrational frettings that keep me awake from 4:00-7:30 a.m. even after I went to bed at 2:00 a.m.:

1. The PR lady at the college thinks my name is Joyce, and I hate the name Joyce, and so maybe I should email her and tell her. Except I’m so overwrought due to lack of sleep that I shouldn’t email anyone about anything because I’ll be awful. But maybe I should email her. No. I should not. Except maybe —

2. The slow-motion slide of a scared rodent — mouse? mole? shrew? — down an icy hill at a ski meet loops endlessly on the screen of my close-eyed cinema. Kids had been skiing on that hill all day, so the snow was tamped hard and frozen. Byron and I were talking to a neighbor when someone called out “Oh, no. Look!” We turned to see a dark, furry form gliding our direction, hundreds of skis creating a maze of danger around it. Immediately, Byron grabbed my shoulders and rotated me to face the chalet, saying, “Don’t look. Just don’t look.” It was heading towards us, and I hated it, but it must have been so scared, and was it going to get killed by some oblivious teen zipping through on slick wax? All I wanted was for it never to have existed in the first place; I didn’t want it to get squished. Was it still coming towards us? Byron was watching. He would move me, if need be. The other mom and I uncomfortably continued our conversation, but the image of a heap of dark fur gliding slowly our direction was searing into my psyche, and at 4 a.m. I know if the mouse or rat or gopher ever reaches me, if the cinematic loop in my head ever extends by another ten frames, that terrified critter will hit my feet, scramble up my body, and crawl into my mouth, down my throat — oh, fuck, there it goes again in my mental cinema, the loop starting over, and here it comes, its uncontrolled slide the stuff of waking nightmares, and again it goes, and again and —

3. I have to get up in three hours and braid Allegra’s hair before a cross-country meet, and will she have two hairbands ready if she wants two braids? Are we using her hairbrush or mine? Are we doing it in the bathroom or the kitchen? Will the braids bring her luck? How long now ’til the alarm goes —

4. I need to get overalls. Is Carhartt the best brand for overalls? How can I pack heavy work boots when I was hoping to travel light? I’m going to have to wear work boots through security in the airport because they are too clunky to pack, and I hate wearing time- and labor-intensive lace-up boots through TSA. Could I maybe just pack my Wellingtons and not take work boots? I mean, they said mud in the field is an issue, and Wellies are good for mud. But rubber boots take up a lot of space in a bag, too. Can I pack most of my clothes inside a pair of Wellingtons? 5:00 a.m. thought: CAN I FIT A HOODIE INSIDE A RUBBER BOOT? The farm where I’m doing a writer’s residency sent a list of guidelines expected of residents; they include feeding goats, cleaning the chicken coop, siphoning the duck pond, and turning off the electric fence before cleaning up any detritus because the shock is strong, especially when water is present, and I had no idea I was paying hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket, a rental car, etc. so that I could assist with work projects requiring a chainsaw — because I didn’t have to apply for this thing, and the info was linked through the application form. So how can I sleep now when I’m responsible for gathering eggs in a month? And why am I always so tra-la-la that I fail to look for the fine print? On the plus side, I now know the name of my autobiography will be a phrase lifted from the guidelines: Checking the Trough for Mildew. Even better, there’s a donkey whose braying apparently works like a rooster’s crow come dawn, so at least it’ll feel like I’m living in Turkey again. But farm work. This all probably means there will be mice, right? Are the cats going to leave mouse carcasses everywhere? Why am I even doing this thing? It’s going to be awesome, a real boondoggle, especially if I can fit a hoodie inside a Wellington. Can I add “baking goat treats” as a special skill on my CV? Why am I doing this so lucky I get to do this —

5.


Typing: took some time

Editing: negligible

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Sixteen in Some: Tuesday, February 6

When Byron goes to bed each night, I shift into “all the world falls away” mode. The house sleeps, yet my party continues. Some nights this means I work on a jigsaw; other night it means I catch up on celebrity gossip; and sometimes this means I watch a show that I know Byron wouldn’t enjoy so much. 

Currently, I’m deep into the German program called Babylon Berlin — set in the 1929-34 era of the Weimar Republic, featuring a hefty cast of characters and produced with the largest budget ever for a television show not shot in English. Although the first episode was only “pretty good” in my estimation, what with the amount of exposition that is needed when a story intends to be “sprawling,” each subsequent episode has woven around me to the point that I’m thinking about this program throughout the daylight hours, counting down until I can hit Play on the next installment. Seven episodes into the first season, I’ve completely forgotten my pangs for The Crown. Take that, Philip, you petulant philanderer!

Babylon Berlin creates a world where I, the viewer, am more tense and worried for the characters than they seem to be. Their casual assurance, even in the face of fraught situations, is strangely comforting in this time when black is regularly called yellow, and we’re all expected to accept it. Post-traumatic stress problems? Soul-grinding poverty? Male machinations attempting to stymie the ladies? Visceral gore before dinner? Lying, deceit, and surprise victories? All run through the story of Babylon Berlin, and the characters remind me: chin up; look reality in the eye; handle yourself; fuck the fuckers; and at the end of a brutal day, nothing will restore your spirits like a wild and random dance break.

Here are even more reasons why I am crazy for this program:  

1. Glorious period detail!


2. A tortured hero!

3. Who has his ways of coping!

4. A winsome heroine living in abject poverty!

5. But she knows everything feels better when you’re at the club!

6. Dancing!

7. HATS!!!

8. The opportunity for fisting!

9. Casually accepted counterculture and genderplay!

10. A lantern-jawed landlady! And subtitles! About food!

11. Communists! Trotskyites!

12. A high commissioner with the vice squad who can be neither hated nor trusted and who looks eerily like W.C. Fields!

13. Mixed-fours rowing!

14. Horns!

15. More hats! Worn by the pious!

16. Absinthe!

Babylon Berlin dropped on Netflix in the U.S. on January 30th, and I’ve been increasingly enchanted ever since. Every night, I can’t wait to hit the club. 


Typing: Dunno

Editing: Probably half an hour of grabbing and cropping screenshots

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Five in Five: Monday, February 5

It’s the darkness that distinguishes it.

Playing outside during daylight was so commonplace as to blur, in the faint murmurs of memory, into nothingness. Being out of the house under radiant sun just meant another Saturday, another round of mud patties slapped together while perched on the curb, leaning over the gutter. If it was 3 p.m., and I was eleven, then shape-shifting swells of neighborhood kids were likely on our bikes chasing each other down as Cops ‘n Robbers, finger guns drawn and ready to shoot.

But after dark. 

To be outside past dinner time sent a slither of excitement up my nape. After dinner, televisions were turned on, projects were completed, phone calls were made. To play outside with the moon as lamp, shadows murking every corner, bats flapping overhead — cutting through the Bergendahl’s side yard, whizzing up to the horse pasture, frantically outpacing “It” to kick the can and claim safety — romping after dark held tenebrous charm.

I don’t know what lured me outside that evening. There was no gang gathering in front of the Bakers’ house, no planned meeting with Lisa next door, no reason I wanted to escape the house. 

Teetering as I was between youth and adolescence, the idea of play had been fading, crushes on boys filling the spaces that had previously been filled with Lincoln Logs and tag. Perhaps darkness offered protection from ridicule; by myself, outside, with no one to mock a girl in a bra still wanting to yip and roll and pretend, I could just be. 

Hardly ever could I just be. 

Without announcing my intentions — my sister watching a show in the den while Dad dozed in his armchair; my brother in the basement in front of a different tv, my mom cleaning up the kitchen after dinner — I went to the coat closet. My snow pants and winter coat weren’t a matched set, but, hand-me-downs, slid on easily. My boots rustled as I pushed my cotton-socked feet into the bread bags lining the cheap plastic. Tugging on hat and mittens, I slipped out the front door.

Down the cement stairs to the driveway.

Over to the mounds of snow, heaped high from shoveling after a recent storm. 

All of Forsythia Boulevard was silent; the entire Wilshire Heights subdivision felt muffled by a blanket of white and dark. 

It was just me. Free to be.

First, I jammed my feet into the sides of the mounds, creating a staircase. Then I stomped a wide plain into the section nearest to the Foleys’ house. To ring the plain — ooh, make them high! — I packed mountains in a variety of elevations and — wait! look! — I humped my rear end down the edge of the plain again and again, climbing back up, plopping my weight back down until I’d carved a high-speed chute. Oh, boy, but what about this: that bit in the middle of it all seemed hard and icy; what if I hacked an opening? 

Earnest, intent, completely focused on the world I was creating, the minutes flew. Hey, a castle tower over there, and I think I can make a second hole, like a donut to climb through, so this is a Medieval ice land where baked goods dot the landscape. And I’m the seal queen — they call me The Glissade because I glide from village to village on my belly, really fast and sleek, and I visit everyone to make sure their croissants are fluffy enough, and if they need help, I can reverse my glide and push backwards to the Plain of Yeast and get them more butter and eggs, but no matter what I’m always the best slider, and everyone is always happy to see me because I zip into town on my belly carrying jams and toothpicks for the big festival –

As I played, protected by snow and darkness, the cold press of the ice against my stomach was reassuring as I careened down the chute; when I stood up on my hind seal flipper, I dominated my landscape, a looming giant of a ruler. My snow pants hurtled me from high to low as I crawled and slid, headfirst, feetfirst, down the mountain, across the Plain of Yeast, over to the frosting river. Covered in polyester seal skin, my widening woman’s hips whizzed easily through the donut hole, the softness of my breasts providing added cushion as I stalked a pretzel deer made of sticks.

Rolling, whirling, twirling, heaping, crashing, shimmying, jumping, creeping, leaping under the glint of a moonslice — I was inviolate.

My period had ended a few days before. I was pretty sure my English teacher hated me. At a recent slumber party when we did “Slam Books,” everyone wrote, when forced to acknowledge my strengths, that I was “tall” and had “pretty hair.” No matter how hard I tried, I could never stop myself from eating ten spoonfuls of the raw chocolate chip cookie dough.

Ah, but then, for that unexpectedly hallowed hour, that out-of-nowhere gift of joy, I was The Glissade, unflinching and unencumbered. 

Eventually, I couldn’t feel my toes. It was time to go in. I had homework — needed to finish reading A Separate Peace. But did I maybe want to call through the front door and see if anyone wanted a tour of my work? If showed someone, they’d praise it, and that would mean I was good. 

Nah. If I showed someone, then it wouldn’t be just mine any more, and the beauty was in the secret.

Sitting on the Plain of Yeast, wriggling my toes, panting a little, I glanced towards the house. There. In the kitchen. I could see my mom’s head above the kitchen sink as she scrubbed a pan. Backlit by a warm glow, she looked up, spotted the shadow of my figure outside. Leaning towards the window, she raised her eyebrows in surprise and jokingly wagged her soapy finger at me. 

Scooting down a mound of snow — just a mound of snow now — I stepped onto the driveway, raised my arms, and gave her an exaggerated shrug. 

Then, turning to face the cement steps, I inhaled deeply before starting the climb.


Writing time: 37 years?

Editing time: 7:30

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